Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (2023): The Mission Impossible franchise has been through many iterations, but the last three films, including the current one, have evolved into their potential final form. A true blue action film franchise, with practical set-pieces and dynamic stunts, led by a leading actor who values the theatrical experience over everything else and is ready to put his body and self in the high-stakes stunts, such that the verisimilitude of the ludicrousness of these moments never breaks.

It is easy to forget, though, that the first three movies in this franchise were auteur-driven one-off films where directors, with their distinct style and timbre, put their stamp on the franchise as a whole. Be it Brian De Palma, with his propensity to shock, titillate, and yet produce a stylization of the vibe of the 1960s spy thrillers, Be it John Woo, with his brand of style over substance and all to make every scene, every run, and every motion look cool in slow-motion Be it, JJ Abrams, with his sense of kinetic action with quick cuts, choppy editing, and stacking of one action set-piece over another, all to distract the audience from the plot, which was pretty emotionally resonant (for the most part).

It is from the fourth film, directed by Brad Bird, with a screenplay given an uncredited rewrite by Christopher McQuarrie, that the true coherent version of the franchise starts to take place, where imagination over action set-pieces becomes the style, the kinetic nature of those set-pieces, and the adrenaline rush in seeing Cruise battling it out over these impossible circumstances (pun intended) become the substance, more often than not. Until 2018’s Mission Impossible: Fallout, which balances out plot threads and provides closure on dangling ones from the previous movies, strengthening an overarching continuity

But this time, McQuarrie and Cruise (because Cruise’s creative control has been all over these films) truly choose to look back, and Dead Reckoning: Part One becomes an exercise in homage as well as meta-textually commenting on the veracity of old-school sensibilities over modern-day inculcations. It is a fascinating, albeit divisive, move in some respects, but a gutsy move all the same.

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (2023) Movie Synopsis & Plot Summary:

“Dead Reckoning: Part One” opens with the MacGuffin already revealed. Two parts of the key were combined to unlock an artificial intelligence embedded deep into the Russian submarine at the Sevastopol housing chamber. However, we see the artificial intelligence already beginning to assert control as it manipulates the submarine to fire a torpedo toward an enemy submarine, only to realize that the radar and other instruments had been malfunctioning and no enemy submarine had been present.

However, the damage had been done because the weapon launch system couldn’t be deactivated, and its torpedo critically damaged the Sevastopol. While hiding in a safe house, Ethan Hunt gets a mission to retrieve half of the Crimson Key (as revealed), which is now in the hands of Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), who has a bounty on her head. Hunt travels to Saudi Arabia to retrieve the key and manages to team up with her and take down the mercenaries after her before she is shot, presumed dead.

The Community, revealed to be a secret conglomerate of the directors of Intelligence agencies, gathers to discuss the Entity, an experimental Artificial Intelligence. Originally designed as a tool for sabotaging military systems, the entity manages to extract information from all over the web, gain sentience, and begin to infiltrate all major intelligence networks and military systems. As asked by DNI director Denlinger (Cary Elwes) and answered by Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny), former director of the IMF and current director of the CIA, the AI is leaving its digital footprint to send a clear message—because it can.

A similar sort of recklessness is exhibited by Hunt himself, who has managed to sneak into that meeting, and as he ambushes that meeting and drugs every person except for Kittridge, their conversation reveals that major powers are vying for possession of the Entity, which is held by both halves of the key, which could unlock the mechanism for control of that entity.

Hunt believes that The Entity is dangerous and should be destroyed because that is too much power for any man or nation. To that end, he recruits Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), and they travel to Abu Dhabi International Airport to intercept the owner of the other half of that key. Ethan manages to evade agents sent by the Community, led by Jasper Briggs (Shea Whigham). Still, he is unable to obtain the key because the holder is pickpocketed by professional thief Grace (Hayley Atwell). Ethan soon follows Grace and manages to convince her to work with him, with him having both halves of the key in exchange for giving her the money promised to her.

While that is occurring, Benji identifies a mysterious bag in the baggage compartment and, with the help of Luther, barely manages to defuse the nuclear bomb, which, however, seems to be empty. But as it turns out, the AI (presumably the Entity) manages to use the psychological test in answering the questions to defuse the bomb and map Dunn’s voice modules, which later comes to horrifying fruition. Hunt is so rattled by the presence of this nuclear bomb without a core in it and the appearance of Gabriel (Esai Morales), a figure from his past, that he orders the mission terminated. He asks Benji and Luther to escape while he races after Grace alone to Rome, who had stolen the key’s two halves in the commotion.

Mission Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (2023) Movie Ending, Explained
A still from Mission Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (2023)

In Rome, Ethan tracks down Grace, who had been flagged by security agencies over countless charges of fraud and extortion and had been brought in by the police for questioning. Posing as Grace’s lawyer, Hunt tries to convince Grace to help him for her safety, as she is way over her head. However, Grace flippantly refuses and escapes when Community agents, who had followed Grace, start chasing her and Ethan.

The resulting chase also consists of another participant in the form of Gabriel’s assistant Paris (Pom Klementieff), a skilled assassin. The lengthy chase through the narrow alleyways of Rome ends with Hunt’s Fiat 500 trapped in the middle of an underground railroad, and Hunt barely manages to escape from the car with the steering attached to the handcuff previously attached to Grace (recapping action scenes designed almost as a Buster Keaton short film is tough). As he walks out unscathed, he is reunited with Benji, Luther, and Ilsa.

At a safe house, Ilsa finally reveals that the Entity has involved Gabriel as his liaison in this race to find the key, and the key’s importance is paramount to this mission’s success. If the Entity gets a hold of the key, it would be beyond any failsafe and would obtain unlimited access and fetter about unchecked.

With support from Benji and Luther, Ilsa and Ethan sneak into a party held by the broker who hired all the parties for the key: Alanna Mitsopolis (Vanessa Kirby), the daughter of the arms dealer Max (Vanessa Redgrave) from Mission Impossible (1996). As Ethan and Ilsa finally come face to face with Alanna, Gabriel, and Grace, Alanna reveals that Gabriel’s proposition is tempting enough that she obtains the shelf key from Grace, agreeing to meet with Gabriel the next day at the Orient Express for the final meeting to sell both halves of the key. Gabriel also, in a move echoing the moment in Ethan’s past where Gabriel had killed Ethan’s love interest, offers him a choice: either save Grace or save Ilsa.

Ethan fights through Gabriel’s goons and chases after Grace, who had managed to steal the half-key from Alanna’s brother, under whose coat pocket she had surreptitiously hidden the half-key. Following Benji and Luther’s instructions, Hunt chases after Grace. Still, the entity piggybacks into their communications systems and redirects Hunt to the other part of the city, where he is ambushed by one of Gabriel’s goons and Paris.

At the bridge, Grace is met by Gabriel, who knocks her out before he engages in a swordfight with Ilsa. Ethan manages to barely subdue Paris in a close-quarters fight in a narrow lane and rushes towards the other side of the city but is too late in saving Ilsa, who is killed by Gabriel, leaving Ethan devastated.

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (2023) Movie Ending Explained:

Grace, remorseful, is convinced by Ethan and his friends to join their team and help them recover the key, on the condition that once that mission is completed, Ethan will either rescue Grace or the IMF will recruit her through Kittridge. On the Innsbruck-bound Orient Express, Gabriel mounts the train, kills the conductor, and destroys the brakes. Alanna and her brother are on the train to meet the mysterious buyer, who turns out to be Kittridge, supported by Denlinger.

Meanwhile, Gabriel and Paris meet Denlinger, who proposes an alliance between the Entity and the Community. He reveals to Gabriel that the Crimson Key unlocks the housing chamber containing the source code of the Entity AI, and the submarine wreck is still at the exact spot where its torpedo had destabilized it.

An early version of the Entity was put into the system to damage the submarine’s stealth abilities, but it ended up causing the Sevastopol to come apart. The initial build is still on the submarine. Whoever has access to it will be able to control or kill the Entity. Gabriel assassinates Denlinger and attempts to kill Paris because the Entity had assured Gabriel that Paris would betray him, and he couldn’t afford to take any chances.

Meanwhile, Grace manages to sneak into Alanna’s compartment wearing the special IMF mask, impersonating her, drugs her, and goes out to meet Kittridge. Before selling the key, she ensures that Kittridge protects her identity as Grace before she begins to transfer the money via blockchain.

Meanwhile, Hunt had been following the train via motocross bike, while Benji had been following the tracks of the train via car. Hunt misses the train because the train didn’t slow down due to Gabriel having destroyed the brakes. He instead drives the bike over a cliff, parachutes through, and glides through the window of the train, falling upon the goon headfirst who had been planning to shoot Grace.

Her ruse had been up as the real Alanna had awakened from her drug stupor. Grace starts to flee before being cornered, only to be saved by Ethan Hunt. In the commotion, Gabriel pockets the key, which had fallen off Grace’s hand, and tries to flee through the roof of the train. Ethan and Gabriel fight over the train while Grace tries to stop the train.

Ethan manages to overpower Gabriel but is unable to kill him because he is interrupted by Briggs, who had been following since the beginning and had been on the train with his partner. As they both try to catch Hunt and Gabriel, Gabriel jumps off the train and lands on a strategically placed empty truck.

Realizing the temporary defeat but unable to do anything about it, he instead asks Briggs and his partner to help him evacuate the passengers to the back of the train while he tries to stop the train. Unbeknownst to them all, Gabriel had initiated a countdown to detonate the bombs attached to the bridge in front of them and derail the train in the process. Hunt races to the front of the train and meets up with Grace, only to find that the brakes are gone, and they will be unable to stop it. Instead, he and Grace clamber onto the side of the train and try to decouple the engine. They decouple the engine right on time as the bridge explodes, and the engine falls headlong into the water.

Mission Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (2023) Ending, Explained

The speed of the carriages slows down, but not fast enough. Grace and Ethan try to race against gravity as the carriages, one by one, begin to fall off the edge of the destroyed bridge. They hang perilously inside the last carriage. Just as they are about to fall, they are saved by Paris, who had been previously stabbed by Gabriel and is on the verge of death.

Meanwhile, Ethan had managed to recover the key in the fight with Gabriel. Paris, before dying, informs Ethan of Sevastopol. As Briggs reaches that carriage, Ethan wears the speed-flying parachute and flees from the train. Whereas Grace surrenders to Briggs and Kittridge and informs Kittridge of her choice to join the IMF. Meanwhile, Ethan lands at a meadow and meets up with Benji, and they drive off with the key as the Sevestapol lays in wait at the bottom of the ocean.

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (2023) Final Thoughts:

The film’s plot truly drives it this time, perhaps trying to delineate between Cruise and Hunt by introducing backstories within the characters. Sustained protraction within the plot doesn’t work for the film because circuitous schemes and shadowy wordplay run the risk of becoming banal. One of MI films’ strengths has always been character development sprinkled within the sustained adrenaline rushes of glorious action set-pieces. But when the film finally frontloads its star attraction at the end, it is truly glorious.

There are few directors whose style of filmmaking always feels like a throwback, both in its advantages and disadvantages. De Palma’s style of filmmaking with Dutch angles, close-ups, and zooms, as well as lighting with primary colors in the nighttime sequence at the party, hearkens back to the first act of the pioneering film of this franchise.

It is perhaps no coincidence that the emotional turn of the film occurs on a bridge, similar to the moment on a bridge in Prague where Ethan sees the “murder” of his mentor Jim Phelps (Jon Voight). It is deliberate as well to lighten Venice and focus on its shadowy lanes and darkened streets to increase the feeling of paranoia and foreboding that has been a staple of spy genres, even as it plays with the kooky ludicrousness of the sensibility resembling the 1960s.

“Dead Reckoning: Part One” is also comical, a trait shared by its predecessor as well but even more pronounced here, especially in the chase sequence over the streets of Rome. The chemistry between Atwell and Cruise as Grace and Hunt are electric, almost hearkening back to an Ernest Lubitch-style screwball comedy as they try to escape while being handcuffed to each other. It contrasts with the relationship between Cruise and Ferguson, which reads as mature and melancholic on paper, yet Ferguson feels slightly bored. As we see the fate of Ferguson’s character, we understand why, but it is disappointingly apparent.

The DePalma homage sometimes does go overboard, especially with the close-quarters fight sequence in the lane, with a top-down shot following Hunt as he jumps over Paris and one of the goons and tries to subdue them. There isn’t the intricate construction of the set pieces, which reached their apex in Mission Impossible: Fallout (2018).

What is present, though, is a certain amount of updating and immediacy, with a healthy dose of stubbornness befitting a movie star whose wish to utilize practical effects makes a world of difference in experiencing an action scene, which could easily have been done via CGI. That’s not to say CGI hadn’t been utilized; far from it. McQuarrie might be worshipping at the altar of John Frankenheimer and taking liberal inspiration from “The Train,” but he isn’t averse to utilizing digital technology when the needs fit.

Ironically, a discussion of old-school over new-school stems from a movie that completely hearkens back to an old-school form of spycraft, with crosses, double-crosses, and even triple-crosses to an extent. Fascinating, too, is that, on a meta-narrative level, “Dead Reckoning Part One” explores the methodology utilized by the Intelligence Services to go completely analog and to completely hinder infection by the Entity.

It all has interesting ideas on paper, but unlike his previous ventures, McQuarrie’s handling of exposition is clumsy and blunt. In contrast, his handling of the spycraft scenes is spaced out over an extended period such that the pacing becomes inconsistent, and the movie starts to sag. It boils down to expectation because the Mission Impossible films have never been about complex plots of great emotional poignancy. Still, there has been a certain level of coherence and balancing of the plot threads with action set-pieces, which decidedly feels unbalanced this time around. Part of it also stems from deciding to make this film a two-parter because it feels like the closure of numerous plot threads would be resolved in the sequel, even though this first part ends quite cleanly.

But Cruise and McQuarrie’s thesis on the merits of a summer blockbuster rating based on practical experiences does line up with the movies’ statement of the encroaching of modernity (AI). At the end of the day, Cruise and the cast are having too much fun crafting an old-school spy thriller, with the meta-narrative of resorting to more analog and practical expertise.

It makes for a fascinating, albeit blunt and a tad bit bloated, sequel. But when your movie has a sequence where train carriages are systematically falling down a bridge, and you are following your protagonist’s efforts to escape gravity, you are bound to forgive some of these strictures. Summer blockbusters usually don’t come out looking this visceral, this muscular, or sounding relatively smart and sexy. Mission Impossible does, and that is enough sometimes.

Read More: All the Mission Impossible Films (including Dead Reckoning Part One), Ranked

Trailer:

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (2023) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Wikipedia
Cast: Tom Cruise, Hayley Atwell, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Vanessa Kirby, Esai Morales, Pom Klementieff, Mariela Garriga, Henry Czerny
Where to watch Mission Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One

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